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Con Funk Shun’s ‘Secrets’ Album Turns 40: The Anti Sophomore Slump Funk Classic

Con Funk Shun (since they’ve recently reunited) remain a band with a strong personal connection to both me and friend/co-founder of Andresmusictalk Henrique Hopkins. For Henrique,it was a being childhood friends with Dameion Harrell-son of the bands sax player/flutist Paul Harrell. For me,the personal connection came from their 1979 jam “Chase Me” being part of that often discussed first long form exposure to funk via the compilation The Best Of The Funk Essentials. Somehow or other,the bands sound (along with Earth Wind & Fire) became a strong criteria for 70’s funk in my listening tastes.

Their 1977 album Secrets,which celebrated its 40th anniversary on March 25th, was reissued on CD during the mid 90’s funk reissue boom. I found it at the local Borders Books & Music. They’d let you listen to CD’s in a player behind the counter-since they had equipment to reseal opened media at the time. Having just learned that this had been the bands second album,hearing it really went against the film/music/literature cliche of the sophomore slump. All nine of the songs on this album were consistently excellent. And that was heavily reflected in my Amazon.com review of the album.


On their sophomore release these Vallejo California natives actually sharpen up a good deal of the harder edged elements of their sound found on 1976’s Con Funk Shun and develop something of a new flavor to their sound. Seen by many people who,as I was at first familiar with the band through compilations as something of a fully west coast answer to EWF.

Now that has some truth to it and not too. While bandleader Felton Pilate and Michael Cooper have similar vocal exchanges to Maurice White/Phillip Bailey and their harmony based,melodic groove sounds do have a passing similarity Con Funk Shun don’t concentrate as much of their concepts as they do instrumental exchanges and songwriting. And this particular album features endless examples of their new style.

Despite the hard driving nature of the hit “Ffun” and “ConFunkShunIzeYa” these two horn heavy grooves are by no means indicative of the entire album as a whole “DoWhaChaWannaDo”,with it’s elegent mix of melodic arrangements,on time rhythm and strong craft showcases this as music that stands directly in between th earlier,classic “united funk” and the pre disco sophistifunk style.

This also shows up on the smoother,more midtempo grooves of “Who has The Time” and the title cut,both powered by wah wah’s,heavily reverbed rhythm guitars and sultry harmonies. The outright ballads “Tear In My Eye” and “I’ll Set You Out OK” have all the sitar/orchestration effects of classic Northern soul with all the melody intact. “Indian Summer Love”,an uptempo instrumental showcasing the jazzier end of the bands sound has a George Benson/Wes Montgomery/Bobby Broom style guitar exchange between Michael and Felton that is pure icing on the cake.

Honestly have purchased this during the time I was really thoroughly exploring the funk genre I’d recommend this and other albums like it to those people who think they don’t like funk or find it “annoying”,an all too common phrase I hear sadly. It’s melodic enough to show how wonderful music in the groove can be. Also the instrumental ability of the band is more than strong enough to make this great for more serious listening as well.

Always mildly ignored and under praised when compared to some of their contemporaries with more name recognition (The Commodores,Ohio Players, Kool & The Gang and The Bar Kays come to mind), Con Funk Shun had a definite niche carved out as among the smoother of them all. But smooth FUNK,not just smooth grooves and that’s important to distinguish. So one will likely just put this on and take the ride with them because it will be a happy surprise for anyone pretty much.


Con Funk Shun’s Secrets album was part of a huge array of funk classics that came out in 1977. To use writer Rickey Vincent’s terminology, albums of this kind stood as a transitional one between the early/mid 70’s “united funk” era and the later 70’s “dance funk” one. It was definitely a melodic album that was extremely catchy and singable. At the same time the combinations of rhythms,horns,synthesizers and bass/guitar interaction really typified the junction right between these two eras of funk music’s development. That makes Secrets one of the most important funk albums of its era.

 

 

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Donald Fagen: The First Two Solo Albums

donald-fagen

Donald Fagen is someone whom I’ve neglected exploring on Andresmusictalk. And Steely Dan for that matter. Its a major goal for the blog to remedy that this year. Fagen will be one year short of 70 years old this coming Tuesday. And to start that celebration of the man and his music,wanted to start out by discussing the beginning of his solo career. It all began as an outgrowth from Steely Dan at first-utilizing some of the same session musicians such as Greg Phillinganes and Hugh McCracken. He also centered on similar jazzy melodies and his signature processed Fender Rhodes electric piano.

Fagen once discussed his 1982 debut The Nightfly and his follow up a decade later in Kamakiriad as representing the arc of his life. Conceptually his debut focused on his adolescence during the early 60’s during JFK’s “new frontier”-actually one of the song titles. The following album acts as a similar character dealing with middle aged situations,and tentatively looking to the future. Musically both albums reflect the change. The Nightfly sounds like a straight Steely Dan album for the most part. Kamakiriad adds some early 90’s drum programming and electronics on some of its songs.

These two albums are strongly linked to a sense of nostalgia in my own life. Hearing songs such as “IGY” and “Greenflower Street” while driving to pick apples with my parents while in the 4th grade. A local supermarket playing the whole album while at one point in the 90’s. Then there was hearing “Tomorrow’s Girls” on the radio for the first time-as well as “Florida Room” being a major ear worm while vacationing on my 30th birthday with my family in Tampa. Each of the songs on this albums are noteworthy for discussion. In the end though,best to deal with the entire albums themselves.


The Nightfly (1982)

During his period as half of Steely Dan for all intents and purposes Donald Fagen’s lyrical focus had always been on sly,cryptically phrased musings on the various twisted urban misfits surrounding him and Walter Becker in New York City and LA. It became a trademark. But Fagen had another side to him and a lot of it had to do with a completely middle American existence in 1950’s suburbia. From the stark black and white back cover photography of tract housing to his somewhat ambiguous manifesto written on the back this is certainly a very clever way to differentiate Fagen as a solo artist outside Steely Dan.

Musically this album is not in fact too different than [[ASIN:B00004YX39 Gaucho]] but the sound of the album is quite a bit more full and keyboard oriented. It could easily have been a Steely Dan album since all of the same musicians that you’d find on a latter period Dan recording and the same polished sound,enhanced further by the fact that this is one of the earliest full digital recordings ever made. Songs such as “I.G.Y”,”Greenflower Street” and the wistful shuffle of “Walk Between The Raindrops” explores the pseudo futurism and often ironic romanticism of post WWII America with Fagen wittily crooning about “getting your ticket to the wheel in space”.

The funkified “New Frontier”,named for JFK’s famous slogan gives a similar treatment to an atomic age fallout shelter romance Fagen may or may not have genuinely indulged in during his young. That romantic end of the theme is again explored in the ballad “Maxine” with some wonderfully multi tracked vocals as well as the well received cover of “Ruby Baby”,adding to the period flavor. The title track stars Fagen as “Lester The Nigthtfly”,a graveyard shift DJ broadcasting “jazz and conversation” while taking some eccentric call in’s along the way.

There’s also a noir-ish political intrigue Cuban revolution-era sendup on the breezily percussive “The Goodbye Look”. Even though the album has a unified lyrical and musical theme it also contains enough variety and charm to make it work in many context,from the audiophile to the irony of hearing this entire album played beginning to end for years in the local supermarket. Either way it’s one of the most welcoming and clearly defined of the all the Steely Dan related releases and was the best possible way for Fagen to begin his career on his own.

Kamakiriad/1993

From the start Donald Fagen has always been a very smart man. Most of the creative decisions he made in Steely Dan tended to be the correct ones,as much of a perfectionist as he tended to be. Likely that was part of it. After his enormously successful solo debut [[ASIN:B000002KXV The Nightfly]],very much an extension on Steely Dan there was a decade long gap between albums. And when this finally emerged it was very much a Steely Dan album in all but name,featuring production and playing from Walter Becker. Something more interesting was going on though.

Part of the appeal of Steely Dan,in terms of their lyrics,was their devotion to very implicit (sometimes cryptic) uses of language. You didn’t always know exactly what they were talking about. Sometimes you got the impression you didn’t want to. This came along at a time where most popular music of the time was stating things in highly explicit ways. You’d think Donald Fagen would have trouble surviving in this environment of harsh music and lyrics. Actually he turned that very much to his advantage.

For starters the focus of this sophomore solo set is the flip of the first one. Where on that he was looking back upon his youth,here he was looking forward on middle aged. And considering we’re talking about one of the most perceptive modern songwriters this side of Joe Jackson,he’s got plenty of stories to tell. He’s very much the observer on “Trans-Island Skyway”,”Countermoon” and “Springtime” that open the album. These are grinding funk jams with some JB like guitar licks and breaks but with this ultra clean production and elaborate pop tunes mithing he was known for.

The somewhat slower “Snowbound” has a lovely sound even as it deals with a midlife crisis. “Tomorrow’s Girls” is very much [[ASIN:B00003002C Aja]] period Steely Dan all the way,with this hilariously witty lyric comparing the new generation of women to Stepford Wife-like B-movie body snatchers. “Florida Room” is one of my favorites on this album full of them for me,a swinging uptempo jazz funk number with an extremely catchy melody and a sassy theme. The near 9 minute “On The Dunes” is a a beautiful jazzy ballad with some wonderful piano chords and a very reflective,if sometimes sad take on going up time and the river as it were.

The album ends with another great mixture of jazz and funk on “Teahouse On The Tracks”. In the end this is one of the finest albums to come out of the Steely Dan musical cannon. Donald Fagen was extremely lucky in that regard. His first two solo records,though released a decade apart were absolute musical triumphs. And both were tremendously successful as well. After being let down so massively by the pop culture changed in 1991-92 hearing “Tomorrows Girl” on new music pop stations was an absolute delight to these ears.

It would be under a decade when Steely Dan finally did re-emerge with a new album [[ASIN:B00004GOXS Two Against Nature]] and take home their first ever Grammy for album of the year. I am of the opinion that if pop music had gone for the type of approach that Steely Dan and people like them had,people could turn on the radio and be able to sing,hum and dance along to music happily that would give them something to think about in the end up. This is music that will make you dance along,hum along,feel happy,sad and creative all at the same time. So if I could thank Fagen himself for putting this kind of music out,I would without hesitation.


These two albums are now part of a trilogy of Donald Fagen albums. The final of them was released just over a decade ago and was called Morph The Cat. It came after two Steely Dan comebacks in the early aughts. And it reflected the transition to elder hood. It isn’t an album I have strong memories of so will have to revisit it in the future. But The Nightfly and Kamakiriad still stand to me as the most representative of Donald Fagen’s solo sound. With his most recent album Sunken Condos dealing with a whole new conceptual threat,we’ll just have to see where Fagen’s groove takes him next time.

 

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Blackstar: David Bowie’s Swansong Nearly A Year Later

Blackstar

David Bowie’s final album Blackstar doesn’t likely require much of a push from someone like me. It was a musically powerful final album from Bowie. And as depressing as it may seem,much of its notoriety likely derived from 2016’s unfortunate obsession with the cult of the dead. As you all know,my focus on reviewing songs and albums tends to be on music that’s happy in nature. Don’t personally listen to a lot of dark,depressing music. And  Blackstar has extremely dark lyrics and compositional approaches. What I didn’t know when it came out was that David Bowie was dying of cancer while making it.

There were elements of the album that reminded me of the somewhat brooding avante garde jazz-rock fusion of Miles Davis’s earlier electric albums-mixed with its electronic and baroque elements. As my father informed me from his reading, a lot of this had to due with California jazz sax player Donny McCaslin. Bowie was an admire of his. And invited McCaslin to work on his new album with him. Thinking he was only there for the song “Sue”,turns out Bowie desired him to be present for the entire album. As for my first impressions on the album,here’s what I wrote roughly a year ago for Amazon.com:


While it seemed a personal opinion to me at first? It seems that 2015 was a very dark and tense year. Both in terms of America and the rest of the world. It was the first time in several years that I didn’t personally collect a lot of new music. Much of what came out, even from artists I normally enjoyed,seemed tame and lacking in vitality. It’s hard to believe it’s been over three years since David Bowie made his comeback after a decades absence with [[ASIN:B00AYHKIZ6 The Next Day]]. To be honest? Wasn’t sure it wouldn’t be that long until another album arrived. Due in part to being busy in my own life lately? Haven’t kept track of much new music in months. Until this birthday surprise from this artist arrived.

The title song that opens the album clocks in at near ten minutes. Within that time it combines a Gothic opera string arrangement with sections of both industrial drum ‘n bass and stomping 60’s style funky soul. “Tis Pity She Was A Whore” is a dramatically discordant dance rocker with it’s own unique sense of melody. “Lazarus” is a crawling alternative jazz/rock number with some sad,wailing sax. “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime” has a similar flavor to the album opener-only with a more consistent rock flavor. “Dollar Days” is a plaintive acoustic guitar/piano led ballad while “I Can’t Give Everything Away” concludes it all with a densely arranged drum machine and harmonica led dance/rocker.

Overall this album has all the instrumental hallmarks of a David Bowie record. Soul,electronica,rock and opera are all combined together into an eclectic musical stew through which he and his musicians can thoroughly explore their melody and different senses of harmonies. Everything from the title and the imagery of both the packages as well as the lyrics are extremely world weary. So would have to agree with a lot of reviews this has at least that in common with the man’s mid/late 90’s output. That being said? It all ends with what seems like lessons learned,and the possibility of the future having good things to offer. A very good album from an artist who can handle the darkness of life with genuine eloquence and beauty.


It was of course only a few short days after writing this review that I learned of Bowie’s passing. At that time,I considered actually editing my Amazon review to accommodate the what was revealed as the cause of death. Elected not to do that. It was a good choice because,as the year went on,I began to learn other things about what went into the making of Blackstar. And decided it might be a better topic to deal with in terms of a fuller write up along with my original review on this blog. At the end of the day,its a great balancing of moods (musically and thematically) for a music icon about to leave us behind.

 

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Gratitude: Thank You’s From Andresmusictalk

i-wanna-thank-you

Its been three years since Henrique Hopkins and I began Andresmusictalk as a blogging partnership. Its grown in many different directions since then. There have been many stops and starts. And especially in the previous year,sometimes more tributes to music icons than articles on new music itself. On the other hand,2016 was also Andresmusictalk’s most successful year in terms of content,viewership and above all interactivity. So for today,my first article of the year,wanted to thank everyone who participated in its most successful year.

Henrique of course has continued to be a strong jelly maker-consulting me on ideas in the back round whenever he has the chance. Often times,my own family are inspiration. And this year,my new boyfriend Scott. Of course,Andresmusictalk took on two new content creators this year. One is veteran All Music Guide columnist,currently sports writer Ron Wynn. He has contributed album and band reviews regarding genres not normally covered by this blog-such as American roots,blues and world musics. Zach Hoskins came by way of his own blog Dystopian Dance Party following the tragic death of Prince.

Zach has contributed many tributes regarding the Minneapolis sound as well as recent funk/soul music,as well as acting in a similar consulting position as Henrique has. This year,some events occurred that changed my perception of the blog forever. Beforehand,it was more than tempting to view the success of Andresmusictalk in terms of stats,and the numbers of people viewing it. Generally I tried to share my content with the artists I was writing about whenever it was possible. It wasn’t until this year that I actually started receiving some feedback in this regard on Facebook.

Many of the artists whom I share this blogs content with on Facebook is session musicians. One ongoing conversation Henrique and I have had is that session players generally get unheralded or even unnoticed for their contributions. Though I’d never call hum particularly unsung,Brazil’s Paulinho Da Costa is one such artist I shared related content with. A percussionist whose played on thousands of sessions in the pop and jazz world,he sent me a message of best wishes for my acknowledgement this past summer. Wanted to show him my sincere appreciation for that here today.

Lisa Coleman of Prince’s Revolution wrote me back on stating that she was interested in looking at a review I did for Prince’s “DMSR”-the indirect beginning of my “Prince Summer” concept. Narada Michael Walden also expressed similar interest in an Amazon.com archived review of his latest album. But most important was a message from Junior Giscombe of “Mama Used To Say” fame. My re-post of the review of his debut album Ji moved him to tell me  that my support helped him move forward and that love of music made him want to do more even better. That email was moving beyond words to me.

Over the last 366 days,Andresmusictalk has become a lot more than it set out to be. It started out as the work of a disabled man who couldn’t work in the traditional way. And deeply wanted to share his newfound musical/social understandings with the world in some way-with the help of a close friend. Now,the content is actually making a difference to some of the people I write about. And with the addition of new commentators on it (and perhaps more to come),Andresmusictalk is growing into a family of its own kind. So wanted to thank this family for everything,and hope for even more in the year to come!

 

 

 

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Lonnie Liston Smith & His Funky Cosmic Echoes

lonnie-liston-smith-blog

Lonnie Liston Smith represents for me the very reason why the icons of the 70’s jazz/funk genre should not be so unsung. I was exposed to Smith’s music during the late 90’s by my father. For the next decade and beyond,I deeply emerged myself in the in whatever music from him came my way. Having come up playing with free jazz icons Pharaoh Sanders and Rahsaan Roland Kirk,he also worked with fusion pioneer Miles Davis. Smith would end up being a significant link between those two styles of jazz. His sound also opened the door  for contemporary chill jazz as well.

It was during the end of his time with Miles that Smith began putting together the Cosmic Echoes-some members coming right out of Miles’s band. He had bassist Cecil McBee,George Barron on saxes,guitarist Joe Beck and Miles alumni James Mtume as one of a quartet of strong percussionists. Was intending to do one of Smith’s songs as an Anatomy of THE Groove segment. At the end of the day though,Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes were album artists. So I am going to present an overview of their first five albums through my reviews of them from Amazon.com.


Astral Travelling/1973

With a pedigree extending from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers all the way up through his work with Pharaoh Sanders,it was very likely that keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith would have a good chance of changing the face of jazz as a leader. When Miles Davis made his earliest electric jazz works such as Filles De Kilimanjaro and Bitches Brew,he was inspired by psychedelia and the more avant garde side rock and jazz rather than anything pop oriented or commercial.

As a matter of fact Miles alum Herbie Hancock came at his earliest electric albums from the same approach. This would’ve been known as the “cosmic jazz” movement that embraced psychedelia,free jazz and electricity into exciting new combinations. For his part Smith was all set to take this already expansive music into a world of his own.

This album begins with the title song-filled with dancing percussion and the flowing scales Smith gets out of the Fender Rhodes electric piano. “Let Us Into The House Of The Lord” even more deeply explores the meaningful beauty of Smith’s electric keyboard textures-multi tracked for a wonderfully symphonic effect.

“Rejuvenation” and the closing “Aspirations” both extend from this joyous free-bop style rhythm with saxophonist George Barron inventing one penetrating melody after another harmonizing with Smith’s electric and acoustic piano. “I Mani (Faith)” starts off very gently but in the middle Barron’s sax solo begins to reflect the same intense,free associative playing associated with Smith’s former band leader Pharaoh Sanders. “In Search Of The Truth” finds both Smith and Barron again harmonizing their melodies beautifully over a round acoustic bass line interestingly reminiscent of the hook in “Love Potion Number 9”.

Every Lonnie Liston Smith album I’ve ever heard is like it’s own singular extension on a long and often continuing musical and,on later albums,lyrical journey. This album on the other hand is quite a different way to start even from that. Essentially it uses the Smith’s electric piano textures in what amounts to an acoustic free jazz setting with sax,bass,drums and percussion.

With it’s emphasis on rhythm through the heavy Afrocentric percussion and the swelling drum sound the music achieves,the melodies flowing from within them are more than capable of taking your thought process on a meaningful journey without the use of any mind altering chemicals. It’s very much an extension of the social ethic of the era when,for the first time perhaps ever the African American community were strongly emphasizing the regal and spiritual aspect of their heritage. This is a potent reminder of the importance of the funk/jazz era outside the stereotype of commercial dance music: music like this that contained the power to make the souls of the people move.

Cosmic Funk/1974

The spiritual musicality showcased on Lonnie Liston Smith’s first two albums were actually so individual they were in need of a word which would define what they were. They weren’t free jazz,the weren’t African music,they weren’t soul and they weren’t funk precisely. Somehow or other they embraced them all in new and unexpected ways.

It was very much a extension off of where jazz was starting to go in the junction between the avant garde and fusion. When your an artist however there does tend to be the need to be able to define the music you make outside a fairly impersonal label of a genre. It looks as if,very likely by coincidence,that Smith and the Cosmic Echoes actually came across that definition for the music they did with the title of this album.

The title song to his adds a much stronger (and somewhat more identifiable) funk influence to it-with the drum breaks,deep bass line and phat wah-wah guitar taking center stage along with Smith’s electric piano textures. On the vocal numbers “Beautiful Woman”,”Peaceful Ones” and the instrumental “Sais” the more cosmic end of the groove takes shape again on three wonderfully flowing numbers again strongly emphasizing the arrangements created with the dripping sound of Smith’s phase echoed Fender Rhodes.

“Footprints” has a more collective jazz flavor that goes back to a degree to the sound the Cosmic Echoes had on their debut album a year earlier. The album concludes with a wonderful vocal take on John Coltrane’s standard “Naimia”,again prominently showcasing Smith’s unique electric piano sound.

It’s very seldom in jazz funk circles outside the Crusaders do I ever hear a sound and instrumental style as well oiled and musically expansive as that of Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes. This album really served,along with their previous release Expansions to give their sound it’s signature quality that would make all the difference in the next few years.

Smith’s career would be a fairly long and creatively fruitful one. Much like Art Blakey,John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and the jazz greats he clearly admired he sought to uplift the spiritual quality of the music as it entered into it’s electric funk period. Creatively he succeeded on a level that it seems a lot of people with a great passion for music have embraced fully.

Expansions/1974

During the early 1970’s there was a massive change in the cultural consciousness of the African American community that changed the way they looked at themselves in the context of the world. African physical attributes,fashion,music and history was now understood to be a thing of great beauty and significance,rather than being some type of ignorant and primitive past that was in need of being rejected.

This had an enormous effect of literature,art,motion pictures and music. No coincidence that this all occurred surrounding what is sometimes referred to as the funk era. And jazz,enormous in the development of his new Afrocentric consciousness was making an enormous impact in and around all of this. Creatively speaking it was the idea creative environment for a talent with the creative stature of Lonnie Liston Smith.

The title song of this album could actually have been the anthem for Lonnie’s entire musical career. With fast faced,percussion poly-rhythms blending seamlessly with the meditative melodies of Smith’s phase-amp’d Fender Rhodes electric piano this funk mantra for peace and meaning in life extends beautifully into the instrumentals “Desert Nights” and “Voodoo Woman”,both of which stretch out that musical flavor into layers of flamboyantly beautiful,grooving electric piano improvisations.

“Summer Days” is a song that has a major key melody that expresses a great deal of joyousness and harmony as well,only on a mildly more active level,through a similarly themed impulse. “Shadows” takes you to a whole other place entirely with an electric piano effect like trickling water with these captivating horn phrases. “Peace” and the more uptempo “My Love” both express a similar harmonious impulse on very melodic vocal Latin jazz type numbers.

While his debut ‘Astral Traveling’ really got Lonnie Liston Smith on the map as a musical force on his own,this is the album that really went a long way at defining his sound. It’s also where he went for a heavier electric sound and began to thoroughly embrace the jazz-funk fusion sound with which he’s most often associated. He did non of this however to make a lot of money and/or sell out. His interest was in reaching the people with the power of his music and the spiritualism of his lyrical tones,both vocal and instrumental.

I realize a lot of people might get music like this mainly because they are fans of funk,rare groove or jazz and see it mainly for it’s nostalgic value. Fact is though it’s important that the message that this music,both instrumentally and lyrically,was trying to present not be forgotten either. This has the potential to be deeply influential for any funk,soul,R&B and jazz musician even today. And on a level they may not be able to put into words. That should also be considered when taking this album in.

Visions Of A New World/1975

The mid 1970’s were the prime years for what writer Ricky Vincent categorized as the “united funk” era. Music that celebrated the communal style of African American musicianship that was at the very core of funk’s creation from the beginning had become like a giant musical pine cone. It was a whole made up of many parts,scattering seeds everywhere and sprouting with new varieties of the groove from jazz to dance oriented sounds.

The last several Lonnie Liston Smith albums had been primarily jazz oriented affairs with a number of funk/R&B references-concentrating more on creating a unique instrumental feeling and flavor than with concentrating on being one genre or the other. However the jazz-funk movement of the time was almost ideal for Smith’s type of compositional style and playing. And since his previous album ‘Cosmic Funk’ was already headed straight into the realm of the groove,he went all the way there with this one.

“A Chance For Peace” is the song that really pulls it all together: the sound washes of echoed electric piano,heavier use of the ARP synthesizer and a beautifully percussive drum sound. “Love Beams” takes a very period Stevie Wonder-like rhythmic and melodic texture-adding a soprano sax melody that plays few notes but extends the ones it plays wonderfully.

“Sunset” evokes a similar flavor,only with Smith taking over on his beautifully trickling acoustic piano sound. “Colors Of The Rainbow” is a down and out electric jazz anthemic mantra with a dramatically sung and inspiring vocal part. “Devika (Goddess)” gets down deep into the most spiritual end of hard funk with a driving bass line leading the way. The title song however is a real centerpiece. Starting from a more atmospheric intro it goes into the Brazilian style,hyperactive and poly-rhythmic funk-jazz jam filled with bright melodic color,with it’s joyous Clavinet riffing.

“Summer Nights” ends the album on that same rhythmic and instrumental tone that is reflected throughout the slower songs on the album. At least to me this album stands as the most consistently fluid and funky album Lonnie Liston Smith and the Cosmic Echoes made during their salad years. It serves as every bit the culmination of where Smith was taking his musical vision since he left Pharaoh Sanders and released his debut ‘Astral Traveling’.

There was definitely something about this era of funk that was very special in general. If one marvels at the music recorded and played by Earth Wind & Fire,Kool & The Gang,Gil Scott Heron,Stevie Wonder,Curtis Mayfield,Rufus and the Isley Brothers during this time you’d be presented with rhythmically and melodically challenging music that was all at once catchy,wonderful to dance to and had your mind moving in directions you might never have suspected. And in it’s own way,this particular expression of that era almost captures that spirit on it’s highest level.

Reflections Of A Golden Dawn/1976

Visions of a New World was likely the most consistently flowing album Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes had done thus far,at least from the funk perspective. His instrumental and compositional style had fully grown into himself. He had entered into his peak period as a musician. And was poised as one of the major creative innovators of the spiritual end of the jazz-funk sound. In the year between that album and this,there began to be signs of a chance on the musical horizon in terms of funk.

The type of rhythm that would eventually evolve into the disco-dance style was beginning to make itself noticed. At the time,it actually seemed like a welcomed contribution compared to how it would be perceived by the public several years later. Lonnie Liston Smith’s musical path in the 70’s had basically been one of consistent rhythmic revolutions. And since there was something new on that horizon,Smith was enthusiastic to embrace the rhythms of the times.

“Get Down Everybody (It’s Time For World Peace)” approaches the new dance funk sound in a manner similar to Brass Construction-filled with high octane Afro-Latin percussion. On the other hand it keeps it’s foot firmly inside the message of his music,even adding a little melodic reference from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On on the refrain. It’s probably one of the strongest uptempo tracks Smith ever made.

“Quiet Dawn” and “Meditations” return to his signiature sound of richly melodic keyboard textures,only far sleeker and slippery than the usual open sound he got with this approach. “Sunbeams” and “Beautiful Woman” (revisited from his Cosmic Funk album) both have a bright sunshine funk groove to them-full of major key melodies and rhythmic joyousness. “Peace & Love” takes that to another level,reaching right into the hardcore uptempo funk end again with a meaningful message and one of the slipperiest bass lines Smith has ever had in his music.

“Goddess Of Love” and the slower “Golden Dreams” both musically come out of a place that’s hard to explain even for Smith. They are sleekly produced yet as meditatively swelling romantic jazzy grooves as he ever put down. On “Journey Into Space”,interestingly enough he presents one of his view songs with a very prominent African influence-both rhythmically and harmonically. Overall this album is very much an even stronger expansion on what came before.

In fact this and it’s predecessor could album be two parts. There are some differences though. The production on this is far more slick and the instrumental tone is somewhat less round than it was on earlier albums. That’s especially true to Smith’s keyboards. In the end the slight change in production style does the music good because it helps to add yet a new musical color to Lonnie Liston Smith’s already vibrant musical rainbow. Musically it’s another extremely strong release and definitely something to be proud of.


With those five albums reviews spanning 1974-1976,I hope that the general aura of Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes comes through. As John Coltrane had in acoustic jazz a decade before him,Smith viewed his style of jazz/funk as a medium that could speak to people’s souls. That there could be a certain harmonic atmosphere along with the rhythms. Its probably the closest jazz-funk got to what we’d call new age music now. Even so,all of it comes from completely Afrocentric terms. And that what makes Lonnie Liston Smith,however unsung,such an important figure in the world of 70’s jazz/funk.

 

 

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Dangerous 25:Ain’t Too Hard For MJ To Jam!

When Michael Jackson’s Dangerous hit the record racks on November 25th of 1991,I was very aware that it existed. All the videos for the album were premiering on the Fox television network. And tunes like “Jam”,”Remember The Time’ and “Black Or White” were part of the general pop culture soundtrack of the early 1990’s. At that point,my family didn’t have cable TV. And for that matter,little interest in pursuing new music by Michael Jackson at all. And neither did I. Recently,seeing the collectible 3-D diorama of the CD jacket painting purchased by my boyfriend brought back more memories.

On a family day trip to the city of Portland,Maine during 1994 I located  Dangerous on a brand new cassette tape,cannot recall the store exactly. But it was inexpensive. And I decided to pick it up. On the 2 1/2 hour trip back home from Portland,I listened to the 70+ minute album on my old Walkman via headphones. It was during MJ’s public trial by fire,so my first thoughts hearing it was that this would be the last new Michael Jackson that would ever be recorded. Luckily,that wasn’t the case. Yet during the internet age I was able to better articulate my views on the album via one of my Amazon.com reviews.


While not sure I entirely agree on this point. However there is a school of thought that,while containing many excellent songs and performances,Bad has often been viewed in revision as an album that was a bit musically behind the times. All I knew was that between there and here? Michael Jackson parted company from the production of Quincy Jones. Sure there were numerous reasons for this. One of them is why the two matters I just mentioned were interrelated.

Seems Mike had wanted to bring in Teddy Riley-the pioneering new jack swing producer,leader of Guy and by than already producing hits for Keith Sweat and Al B. Sure,to help out with his 1987 release. One can just imagine if MJ had songs like “Night And Day” or “Teddy’s Jam” on the radio during the time. But I can see Quincy’s side of it too. Why have too many cooks in the kitchen? Quincy and Bruce Swedien were almost too much on their own.

The project that eventually became this album began in the late 80’s-with Mike independent to choose Riley as producer but retain master engineer Swedien as well. But not only was Mike’s post record breaking status alienating him from the music loving public. But he was also about to branch off into a totally new,and perhaps even unexpected musical direction.

As usual,an enormous marketing campaign ensued between Mike and Epic-with the Fox TV network even agreeing to air a new MJ video as they came out. So MJ was all set for yet more record breaking for sure. And this time he was going to do so with music that was breaking some new ground as well.

Opening with a smashed glass and deep voiced countdown,”Jam” opens with the album with a spare,MIDI horn accented new jack funk masterpiece where along with a guest spot from Heavy D.Lyrically Mike is battling optimism and cynicism,from within and without,on this song. “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”,with MJ’s beat boxing part of the percussion along with Teddy’s ultra funky guitar and keyboard riffing suggests that,just perhaps,there were broader issues for people in the world to think about than Michael Jackson’s eccentric personal life.

“In The Closet” is a rhythmically amazing number. Mike’s acapella vocalese,beat-boxing and sensually hushed vocals make up the core of this number until Teddy’s popping synthesizers come into the sexually tense chorus. “She Drives Me Wild” is the most musically busy number here-instrumentally the melodic equivalent of being in a highway traffic jam of engines,car horns,breaks-the sounds of which are all heard as rhythmic elements as Mike sings of being extremely sexually aroused.

“Remember The Time” has the most slippery music and melody here-a very clean and typically Teddy Riley uptempo new jack number full of MJ’s trademark composition elements. “Can’t Let Her Get Away” is another highly funked up number-with Mike as a sexual pursuer.

“Heal The World”,a proclamation for his soon to launch foundation is a hyper melodic smooth jazz-pop type mid-tempo ballad while “Black Or White” takes a Stonsey,guitar fueled yet polyrhythmic rock/funk direction. While racially ambiguous on some levels,the bridge where Mike growls “I ain’t scared of your brotha’/I ain’t scared of no sheets” tells a whole other story entirely.

“Who Is It” is a rhythmically heavy,stripped down and very slow grooving funk groove with Mike as “the other man” whose contemplating his lover being unfaithful-and of course nervous it might be someone he knows well. “Give Into Me” is a slick,darkly hued rocker where Mike begs for sexual release over a chorus of loud power chords. Beginning with a vocal choir from the Andre Crouch Singers “Will You Be There”,of course to become the famous theme song to Free Willy is a beautifully orchestral blend of American gospel and South African choral music

The song not only shows African/African American musical connectivity instrumentally, but also lyrically has an aural vastness about it-with Mike himself emerging with a powerful vocal crescendo at the songs conclusion. One song I always personally loved from this album,and which I feel may be underrated by some, is “Keep The Faith”. This song starts off seeming like a melodic ballad. Until Mike sings “’cause you can climb the highest mountain” and suddenly the song transforms into melodically and rhythmically powerful modern gospel.

He’s not singing of any particular religion exactly. In his trademark pleas for univeralism Mike suggests here that faith isn’t necessarily something of a religious nature. One area where his univeralist attitudes may have had a really solid point to make. “Gone To Soon” is a very slow orchestral ballad (not written by Mike) and dedicated to his young friend Ryan White,the teenage boy who died after years of suffering from AIDS. The title song ends the album-with similarly powerful (if musically fuller) groove that begins the album-again focusing on Mike’s dejection when a lady is playing him for a fool.

While Teddy Riley should continue to get a big applause for being able to effectively modernize MJ’s production,it it Mike himself who really came through on this album. Musically speaking,this might well be the most successfully forward thinking and ambitious album Michael Jackson ever recorded in his entire career. One huge reason for that is that Mike,a man with an enormous amount of different ways he can musically utilize his voice,uses that element of his talent as a huge instrumental element on much of this album.

On the Teddy Riley produced uptempo numbers that begin this album,Teddy’s digitally sampled/synthesized instrumental effects are undoubtedly a big part of it. But also the fact that the percussion tracks come from Mike embracing the aural tradition from hip-hop,such as from rappers like Doug E. Fresh,of beat-boxing with their voice to provide both the main and counter rhythms as well. This created an entirely new (and very very funky) template for Mike’s uptempo music here.

Even when the tempo slows,and the subject matter becomes more trepidatious  on the second part of the album? Mike’s singing approach is also different. His voice here is almost exclusively in its lowest possible tenor range-growling and pounding out the lyrics,again rhythmically in the finest James Brown tradition. This is my personal favorite side of Mike’s vocal style.

One which he’d maintain for the rest of his musical career. Sadly,both personally and professionally,the years after this represented a sad and slow decline for MJ. With the smothering arrival of alternative rock on the pop scene later in 1991,this was probably the last time the public hung on every word about what Michael Jackson would do next. And is a rhythmically powerful,and sadly cut off new direction for MJ.


As indicated by my review,Dangerous was really the final time a Michael Jackson album happily stopped the world. The releases of his later albums,not to mention his death,also had mammoth effects on people. But at the time,they tended to come across as the surprise of a fallen cultural icon making major headlines. Even still on its quarter century anniversary,Dangerous  found MJ making his own musical history again. And for one last time perhaps,doing so in a manner that was as based in creative energy as it was trying to sell an album. So happy anniversary ,Dangerous!

 

 

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Filed under 1991, 25th anniversary, Amazon.com, Bruce Swedien, Michael Jackson, Music Reviewing, New Jack Swing, Teddy Riley

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Condensate’ by The Time (Credited As The Original 7ven)

During the 2008 50th Grammy Award presentation,the original seven members of The Time appeared for a performance along with Rihanna. In the coming years,members such as Jesse Johnson began making some serious noise about a reunion tour and album. Of course nothing had come from the band since 1990. Only a Morris Day project featuring different members and a semi reunion on the Rosie O’Donnell show in the late 90’s.

Finally this album dropped in 2011,apparently independently distributed. It was credited to The Original 7ven-apparently at the bands own choice seeing as they didn’t want to keep delaying an album release simply due legal complications between them and Warner Brothers over their name The Time. The question was what would this album have to offer musically.

The album begins (and eventually continues) with an interlude where Morris Day is asked first by the band and by a mock news reporter if he’s “lost his cool” in terms of attitude. The musical response to this is “Strawberry Lake”-full on arena friendly Minneapolis style synth funk admirers of The Time should already know well. “#Trendin” uses a similar template and a lyrical theme humorously revolving around online social networking and the trendy phenomenon of hash tagging.

“Toast To The Party Girl” melds both the post punk guitar based new wave and hard JB style Minneapolis synth funk styles of the Time’s salad years perfectly together. The title song comes out with a heavier live band JB style bass and rhythm section while “If I Was Yo Man” is more a melodic pop/rock number with chiming,bell like percussion throughout.

“Role Play” brings out a far slower grinding bluesy funk flavor about it-with it’s witty fetish setup. “Sick” has a straight up hard rock flavor while “Lifestyle” has the flavor of a modern R&B ballad…inspired somewhat by Minneapolis though…melodically not quite as interesting. “Lifestyle” is another bluesier piece again in a modern setting while “Cadillac” comes at the music with some powerfully live band oriented funk.

“Aydkmn” brings back out the bluesy hard rock guitar groove again while “One Step” brings out a stomping juke joint style shuffle that actually goes perfectly with Morris Day’s funky gigolo persona. “Gohometoyoman” is a classic slow shuffling soul ballad to close out the album. Only “Hey Yo” seems like a very stereotypical contemporary R&B type of song from this album to me,anyway.

Overall? My impression of this album is that many of the tracks do keep the funk alive. In fact,the band add elements of the Afro futurist types of funk,which seeks to reconcile the past,present and continuing journey of the funk/soul music spectrum together,on many of these songs. In fact a lot of them sound as if they could come out of a Janelle Monae right now more than anything the Time were once associated with. The only quality about this album that drops it a bit in quality is that the handful of attempts to modernize their sound.

This modernization really drag the grooves and instrumentation of the album down a lot. I doubt many will remember the popular dance/R&B/hip-hop styles of say 2004-2008 as being any wondrous contributions to funk. And frankly? It just doesn’t seem like something a band of this caliber,whose members have been so responsible for key developments in funk based dance music in the last three decades,need to be at all concerned with. Aside from this,a decent album to get if you can still locate it inexpensively.

Adapted from my original Amazon.com review from December 13th,2014

Link to original review here!

 

 

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Filed under 2011, Amazon.com, Jellybean Johnson, Jerome Benton, Jesse Johnson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Monte Moir, Morris Day, Music Reviewing, synth funk, Terry Lewis, The Time

Alphonse Mouzon: Mind Transplant+ More

Mind Transplant

Alphonse Mouzon is turning 68 today. He’s a drummer that I first heard about via my father’s purchase of the double CD set Move To The Groove: The Best Of 70’s Jazz-Funk during the late 1990’s. The song of Mouzon’s featured from that compilation was 1981’s “Do I Have To”. It is currently not available on YouTube. So am doing a special review of the only album of Mouzon’s that I own on CD,1975’s Mind Transplant.  Its special because again,Amazon.com is no longer electing to leave my customer review of the album up. So am going to present it here for you again


As a drummer,keyboardist,composer and producer Alphonse Mouzon it’s funny that his solo career never really made as huge an impact as his main rival at the time Billy Cobham. As drummers,their specialty was dexterity as what you might describe as highly athletic drummers. But the difference’s might’ve lay in the bands they were associated with.

Cobham’s compositions tended to be very technically precise and complex in the manner of Mahavishnu Orchestra’s classic sound . Mouzon came out of Weather Report’s more fluid groove based style of playing. The sounds of those bands alternately effected and were effected by the presence of this two musicians. On here the opportunity presents itself here.

Recorded largely with the company of some enormous guitar talents such as Tommy Bolin,Jay Graydon and Lee Ritenour this album presents a very strong rhythm section exploring too often very different ends of the electric jazz spectrum. The title song explores a perfect mix of jazz-funk and jazz-rock fusions whereas “Snow Bound”,”Happiness Is Loving You” and the vocal number “Some Of The Things People Do”.

The later song addresess escapism through addictions and denial,are all heavy rhythmic funk of the highest (and best played) order. On the more instrumental jazz-rock fusion numbers such as “Carbon Dioxide”,”Golden Rainbows” and “Nitroglycerin” Tommy Bolin takes over as soloist with the exception of “Ascorbic Acid” with Lee Ritenour and Jay Graydon duetting.

As a jazz-funk drummer Mouzon showcases a great deal of talent in terms of his ability not only to express many different ways with the groove but also with his participatory relationship with the other musicians and their playing. On the more jazz-rock numbers his musical dexterity takes over and he falls right into formation with Tommy Bolin who,while only one of three guitar soloists,definitely dominates on the numbers he solos on.

Because there were so many drummers in the fusion genre at the time from Cobham,Stevie Gadd to Norman Connors it didn’t seem like there was much room for the likes of Mouzon. Though matched with more of a technical skill than Connors and possessing a far strong ability with song craft than the more musicianly Cobham,Mouzon probably didn’t enjoy the success he deserved with this album. But he did deserve it.


There is another reason why this overview is special. And its more personal.  A few months ago,Alphonse Mouzon was diagnosed with  Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. This is a rare form of cancer. And is apparently in its latter stages. With the very recent passing of Sharon Jones of another type of cancer, death hangs heavy over the year 2016. Mouzon is still alive though. And a GoFundMe page has been set up for helping out with costs and treatments. Please visit that page. And look to his Facebook page for regular updates on the health status of Mister Alphonse Mouzon.

PLEASE HELP ALPHONSE MOUZON on GoFundMe

 

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Filed under Alphonse Mouzon, Amazon.com, drums, Jay Graydon, jazz funk, jazz fusion, lead guitar, Lee Ritenour, Music Reviewing, Neuroendocrine Carcinoma, rhythm guitar, Tommy Bolin

‘Emancipation’@20: An Artist Free To Do What He Wants To

Emancipation

Prince’s 1996 triple CD set Emancipation is turning 20 today. I’ve read here and there that a lot of people consider this to album to be the  Sign O The Times for the 90’s in Prince’s catalog. In a lot of ways that’s true. Personally,these songs all sound as if they were recorded to go together from the outset,whereas Sign O The Times  was culled from three aborted album sessions. Whatever the case may have been, Emancipation was the ultimate flower of Prince’s 90’s sound. In the end,that’s not so much a matter of deciding if that’s a good or bad thing. But more looking at what Prince’s musical priorities were in the 90’s.

As one of my blogging partners Zach Hoskins pointed out on his own blog Dystopian Dance Party,Prince defined “Jheri curl music” in the 1980’s with the Minneapolis sound. By the mid 80’s many newcomers and funk veterans were embracing some variation of Prince’s stripped down electro grooves. As Prince’s music grew  into a more live band sound,it also grew somewhat more experimental. This resulted in a series of albums in the late 80’s that weren’t so commercially successful. With the major success of his 1989 soundtrack for Batman,Prince saw that his musical future may not lay in setting trends.

For his 1991 album Diamonds & Pearls,Prince heavily embraced the hip-hop sound. He had been weary and somewhat mocking of this genre in the late 80’s-almost behaving as if it was musically beneath his abilities.  Yet Diamonds & Pearls was his biggest commercial success in many years.  And he also found that,on album tracks that could be future hits,Prince could still exercise his eclectic musical outlook as he always had. Then came the battle with Warner Bros. By 1993-1994,Prince became very angry and frustrated at the music industry for what he saw as the financial enslavement of artists.

This anger and frustration began to become a key element of his songs. Interestingly enough,contemporary alternative rock and hip-hop became his primary musical focus. It all came down to Prince not using his own name anymore. I personally remember Prince appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show at the time (with then wife Mayte Garcia),and actually discussing how on a psychological level,he felt very distant from “Prince” as a personal identity. That was the framework I had to work with at the time the Emancipation album came out. This was Prince,a man freed from creative shackles.

When I actually heard the album,the most interesting part for me was that Prince’s “liberated” music actually made heavy creative concessions to smooth jazz and still hip-hop. And the frustrated lyrics remained intact. On the other hand,it was a broader mixture overall. It gave up the funk many times. And the 2nd disc of it was basically an elongated love ballad (in separate parts) to Mayte. So to me,Emancipation is one part the sound of freedom and another the sound of musical concessions.  Still a now unpublished Amazon review of mine on the album went into more depth than even that.


Probably the most significant aspect of this album was that it was the very first brand new Prince album I purchased after becoming a huge admirer of his work. There was a lot of publicity about this album when it came out. The people who I talked to in record stores at the time would often says things to the affect of “this is going to be the crowning achievement of Prince’s career” and so on. At the time? I wasn’t aware of the intense level of idolatry of Prince’s musical abilities that might’ve been behind a lot of this.

All I did know is that Prince was leaving behind Warner Bros. and launching his NPG Records.beginning his unshackling from the record company burdens he’d been dealing with for the past several years. I also wasn’t aware that any and all musical expectations were simply not part of the game when understanding Prince. And while I had mine? This,my second actual full listening to this since it came out,has really helped to resolve my views on his era of his creative output.

“Jam Of The Year” opens with a strong jazz/funk/hip-hop number-full of muted trumpet and piano. “Right Back Here In My Arms”,the Ice Cube collaboration of “Mr.Happy”,”Joint 2 Joint”,”Da Da Da” and in particular “Email” all follow that hip-hop style sound. On the other hand “Get Your Groove On”,the JB horn styled “We Gets Up”,the synth bass driven groove of “Sex In The Summer”-with it’s percussion effect from he and then wife Mayte’s baby’s ultrasound and the stomping,bass heavy title track represent the strongest funk element of the album.

The hip-hop oriented “Slave” and “Face Down” as well as the bumping bass/acoustic guitar driven pop/rock ballad “White Mansion” all discuss the consequences of his liberation from his recording contract. “Betcha By Golly Wow”,”I Can’t Make You Love Me”,”One Kiss At A Time”,Soul Sanctuary”,Curious Child”,”Dreamin’ Bout You”,”Let’s Have A Baby”,Savior”,”The Plain”,”Friend,Lover,Sister,Mother/Wife”,”La La Means I Love You”,”One Of Us” and “The Love We Make” are all powerful,often epic soul ballads.

“New World” marks something a return to his original Minneapolis sound with it’s brittle,stripped down synth driven dance/funk groove. The one man band rhythm section of “Courtin’ Time” and my favorite number here “Sleep Around” are both highly kinetic big band jazz oriented pieces-the latter what I’d describe as “horn house” I suppose.

“Style” is the best of the jazz/hip-hop numbers here-with it’s descriptions of different (often humorous,always clever) actions Prince equates with “style being the second cousin to class”. “The Human Body” has a Hi NRG industrial dance sound while “My Computer” is a gurgling synth jazzy/funk/fusion mid tempo piece. The acoustic folk based “The Holy River” and the uptempo guitar driven “D***ed If Eye Do” are both the rockier numbers here.

36 songs over a 3 CD set that clocks in at exactly 3 hours makes this a lot of music. There were and still are many mysteries regarding the origins of what’s on this album. For me? It’s surprisingly ballad heavy. Functioning as something of a love ballad to his then wife. The uptempo songs here also tend to follow the angry hip-hop/funk approach of a lot of his early/mid 90’s work. Not only is it clear the man was still very angry at record companies.

But the lyrics also showcase a burgeoning paranoia. With numerous references to mid 90’s period conspiracy theories such as the anti vaccination and “cows are for calves” anti diary movements. When he turns up the funk however? The groove is often heavy and horn filled. Even with his likable embrace of the jazz/hop hybrid here as well. That gives him and the ever expanding NPG to really stretch their instrumental muscles with phat bass lines,horn charts and rhythms. Certainly some areas of this album are very dated and stereotypical for it’s era. Yet it’s still likely Prince’s strongest overall release of the 1990’s.


A little healthy self criticism reveals that I have no great love for musicians who embrace negative ideas (or even musical styles that happen to be trendy at the moment) simply to maintain their popularity. And do actually think Prince did that to a tiny degree on Emancipation.  But Prince never was a particularly commercial minded artist either. As a musician,his first concern seemed to generally be about how new ideas would fit into his creative ethic. At the end of the day,its an album with many songs that maintain their strong grooves. And others that are simply indelibly linked to its time.

Perhaps one reason for why this and much of Prince’s 90’s output didn’t age as well was the general musical atmosphere of the day. When Prince first emerged as a major star in the 80’s,he was essentially spicing up a 60’s/70’s style funk-rock framework with newer instruments. But with that expansive musical period as his base,there was stronger room for flight. By the early/mid 90’s,Prince was starting to pre program more and more of his rhythms. So that left some of his music of the day having little base at all. Still, Emancipation showcased Prince on a strong path to even bigger and better musical things.

 

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Filed under 1990s, Amazon.com, classic albums, Emancipation, hip-hop funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, NPG Records, O(+>, Prince, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince

‘Word Up’@30: Cameo Tell Us What’s The Word!

Word Up!

Cameo and “Word Up” (as a song) in general have been a consistent point of discussion between myself and Henrique Hopkins over the years. At this point,my primary outlet for writing about music was through Amazon.com’s customer reviews. For a number of reasons,my forum or music based writing became based more around my WordPress blogs such as Andresmusictalk. So much of my opinion went into my currently unpublished Amazon.com review of the Word Up album itself. So over three months after its 30th anniversary,here’s my personal take on Cameo’s major funk crossover album from 1986.


Truth be told? This album probably represented the very first funk by a contemporary artist I ever heard. Keep in mind it was when it came out. And at the time I had no idea what a musical genre (let alone funk) even was. The music of Cameo has always had a strong attraction to me ever since-likely due to that core musical memory. Historically for Cameo,this was an interesting time. Starting with 1984’s She’s Strange,Cameo pared down to a trio of three members in bandleader/founder Larry Blackmon on lead vocals and bass with Nathan Leftenant and Tomi Jenkins as vocalists.

Charlie Singleton left the band functionally to start a solo career. Yet the deepest thing about that was that Charlie,along with other members of the band,didn’t leave completely. He,along with session musicians such as the Brecker brothers remained behind on this album which,as it were wound up being their iconic breakthrough album commercially-at least as far as pop char success was concerned.

The title song and “Candy” are of course the signature mid 80’s Cameo sound-stripped down funk sound,slap bass the texture of thick liquid. Another element that makes them stand out is the strong percussion breaks and Michael Brecker’s sax solo on “Candy”-making for one of the strongest rhythmic patterns of mid 80’s hard funk. “Back And Forth” is a straighter dance/funk groove that’s highly catchy and melodic. It seems like a naked funk number,but the arrangement is filled with layers of dreamy synthesizers as well.

It was a full sound creeping up from behind rather than immediately out front. “She’s Mind” is the one slow jam here-really more mid tempo boogie with an appropriately jazzy pop sense of song craft showcasing what terrific songwriters Cameo were. “She’s Mine”,a drum beat oriented hip-hop/funk hybrid as well as the furious live band oriented funk of “Fast,Fierce & Funny” and “You Can Have The World” are all brightly composed and heavily rhythmic grooves-all focusing on the theme of materialistically demanding women that was a mainstay for Cameo throughout the years.

Many “jam fans” who have an intense dislike for the music of the first half of the 1980’s refer to the period in which this album came out as a rebirth of the funk. As soon as James Brown hit the airwaves with “Living In America”,music that was strongly linked with classic funk began to be innovated on. That also found itself spreading into the next generation of hip-hop as well-especially as the functional original funk bands who didn’t have the commercial success of Cameo abandoned the idea of radio play and musical commerce.

So the “nu funk” as it were,and the generation of hip-hop that both inspired it and was inspired by it was all part of the culture from which this album came. It would seem looking back that no one was particularly self conscious about this burst of funk creativity. It seemed to be a degree of life breathed into the “number one funk” aestetic of the 60’s and 70’s-where music that celebrated advanced rhythmic ideas and lyrical wit in a contemporary context could flourish. This album is one of the many that really captures that spirit. And reminds any cynic who thinks that funk is dead that,when it seems to begone,it can survive and (in cases such as this) be enormously successful as well.


One of the ideas I had that sprang up from writing this review was about the type of funk that is becoming successful today. Songs such as “Uptown Funk” (the “Word Up” of 2014/2015 in terms of commercial success in many ways) are generally inspired by the synth based style of 80’s funk. Word Up,as both a song and an album,was a whole other thing though. The slap bass and the slow,hard hitting beats that are seldom heard in modern funk really define this album through and through. Still,it not only represents a major crossover triumph for Cameo but hard funk in the 1980’s in general.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1986, Amazon.com, Cameo, Charlie Singleton, classic albums, Larry Blackmon, Michael Brecker, Music Reviewing, Nathan Leftenant, Randy Brecker, Saxophone, slap bass, synth funk, Tomi Jenkins, trumpet, Word Up